Associated Equipment:
Digital Front End
Amplification
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COMBAK REIMYO DAP 777 DAC
AN ELEGANT PROOF

 

July 2006

 

 

“Music is the pleasure the human mind experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting.”
Gottfried Liebniz, Philosopher, Mathematician (1644-1716)

I met my wife back in a 9th grade math class. Both of us were the best of friends, taking bets on which day of class our geriatric math teacher might make her last proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. That math class would have been much more interesting if our teacher had explored the connection between integers and music, ratios and Led Zeppelin. Think about it: from the Western 12-tone music scale to the indigenous Javanese, (whose music I understand is composed of two completely distinct tonalities), all music is built from the cinderblocks of mathematical concepts, profoundly manipulated by an artist’s creativity and vision. An example of the interplay between math and music is beautifully illustrated in Douglas Hofstader’s book, Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (Basic Books 1979). Hofstader describes how J.S. Bach succeeded in creating musical paradox and illusion in his “Musical Offering” by utilizing complex mathematical patterns in its composition. In one particular Canon of the Musical Offering, Bach utilizes three separate voices in such a complex manipulation of timing, pitch, speed and direction that the original key of the piece is changed “right under the nose of the listener.” Bach ingeniously plays with mathematical patterns to not only change musical keys in each modulation of this Canon, but “ends” each modulation with a natural introduction into the next. Brilliantly, the piece comes to its final conclusion when the last modulation leads naturally into the restoration of the original key of C-minor that began the Canon. Hofstader calls this the “Strange Loop Phenomenon,” where “by moving upwards or downwards through the levels of some hierarchical system, (here, musical keys), we unexpectedly find ourselves right back where we started.” Bach was a great master puzzler, creating his artistic vision through paradox and illusion by utilizing complex mathematical principles of symmetry and pattern.

The subject of digital-to-analog converters (DAC) naturally involves this core interplay between mathematics and music as well. All DACs convert analog signals to the simplest form of positional number systems: the binary system, invented by the great mathematician and philosopher, Gottfried Leibniz, around 1673. My interest in auditioning a few of today’s DACs was to find out how successful designers have been in manipulating this dialectic between math and music and to hear for myself whether separate processors are still worth investigating to improve the front end of our systems, especially given today’s advances in one box player designs.

X’s and O’s
I was drawn to the Reimyo DAP 777 DAC, (“DAP-777”) for two reasons. First, my colleagues Key Kim and Clement Perry have both reviewed the single-box Reimyo CDP 777 transport/player ($17,000), and concluded that the CDP-777 was a reference player in their systems. (Stereo Times, August, 2003). Would the DAP 777 bring similar rewards in combination with my belt driven C.E.C. TL-51XZ CD player used as a transport (“TL51XZ”)($1590) and could I thus obtain a slice of the CDP-777’s magic for a fraction of its cost? Secondly, I knew that the DAP 777 (like the CDP 777) utilized the same proprietary Japanese Victor Corporation (JVC) high resolution “Extended K-2” processing technology that is used to produce JVC XRCD recordings, many of which stand as my reference favorites. (For instance, check out the magnificent Take Love Easy, by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass [Pablo, JVC XRCD 00312]. Kazuo Kiuchi, the humble designer of both the DAP 777 and CDP 777, had this to say to me about K-2 Extended Processing: “This IC processing is designed to extend 16bit information to 20bit. It is a very precise, high definition and faithful converter of the original source. In contrast, normal 16 bit processing is limited and actually is less than 16 bit due to common mechanical and electrical interferences. This IC processing makes a big difference in every aspect including details, depth, width, dynamics - everything you should experience in your listening sessions.” In addition to K-2 Extended Processing technology, Kazuo also extolled the virtues of the DAP-777’s custom made transformers, (separate for its analog and digital sections), its ultra clean custom internal wiring and its resonance conditioning process, proprietary to Combak.

Mathematicians often describe a proof as “elegant,” meaning that it relies upon a minimum of additional assumptions or is derived from original insights. In viewing the DAP-777 from a technical and aesthetic point of view, it too, could be described as “elegant.” The DAP-777 is of compact, single-rack space dimensions, beautifully crafted out of clear anodized aluminum, with a gold-silver badge showing its 20bit K-2 processing pedigree. Build quality is first rate, with all controls designed with care and precision. On its rear are balanced and single ended analog outputs, with optical, coaxial, BNC and AES/EBU digital inputs selected from a switch on the front. Also on the front panel is the power switch and a string of small green LEDs indicating input selector, operational functions (emphasis; lock; error) and sampling frequency display (48; 44.1 32). The unit is beautifully isolated by four metal footers elegantly designed into the body of the chassis. Everything about the DAP-777 instructs of top notch build quality and design, aesthetically pleasing as a shiny Mobius strip.

Speaking of elegance, allow me to briefly mention the newest improvement to my reference listening system, within which the DAP-777 was later placed. Before the arrival of the DAP-777, my system had received an exponential improvement by way of an upgrade to my reference active linestage preamp, the First Sound Presence Deluxe, designed and built by one of my favorite audio craftsmen, Emmanuel Go of First Sound Audio. Emmanuel upgraded my preamp to a full “Paramount” upgrade, involving principally the substitution of Vishay resistors for Holco resistors and the addition of hand built LTV Ladder type attenuators. Emmanuel analogizes the addition of the Vishay resistors to that of taking the wheel of a racecar and I wholeheartedly agree. The Paramount upgrade literally galvanized my system to a new level of listening pleasure, with increased clarity, levels of inner detail and dynamic presentation. Instruments within large orchestral works breathed with new textures and life, pinpointed much more accurately in natural space. With the Paramount upgrade, Emmanuel has clearly achieved a further lowering of the noise floor to expose more musical tension, natural flow and dynamic inner detailing, the hallmark of his preamp designs. Like a dedicated mathematician, Emmanuel continues to provide elegant new upgrade paths for owners of First Sound preamps and never seems to rest on his humble laurels. I highly recommend a conversation with Emmanuel for anyone considering a new reference preamp, or if you are a First Sound owner already, looking to gain even more insight into your favorite recordings.

After several months of listening to my reference system with the new Paramount upgrade in place and just the TL51XZ as my front end, I introduced the DAP-777 into the system connected to the TL51XZ via Combak’s coaxial digital cable HS 102 ($935 per meter length) and their XDC2 power cord (1.5 meter cord included in the price of a DAP-777) all generously provided by May Audio for this audition. I listened to a specific selection of recordings, each first on the reference and then with the DAP-777 in place.


A Beautiful Quotient
I would liken the introduction of the DAP-777 to what a mathematician might say about mathematical beauty: that it arises only from an intensely active engagement with mathematical concepts. Likewise, the DAP-777 absolutely commands your active attention to a particular recording. Passive participation is impossible. Taking a lead from Jonathan Valin’s astute observations on “sonic realism”, (The Absolute Sound, Issue 162), the DAP-777 literally transformed recordings with a new “dynamic launching”, where every instrument from voice to violin conveyed a more physical presence than with just the TL51XZ playing. I wasn’t so much impressed with the increase in low level detail that the DAP-777 brought to recordings (although there was plenty of this new detail to explore!), but more with the expansion of the sheer “Physicality” of the music with the DAP-777 in place. Whether this was ultimately due to the DAP-777’s introduction of a natural warmth to all recordings, a more lively midrange and larger, life-sized images (or a combination of all of these) it certainly created an immediacy to music that drew me in as an active participant. For example, (keeping with our theme of mathematics), take Joan Armatrading’s “Down To Zero” done in searing fashion by the crackly soulstress, Bettye LaVette, on her great eclectic disc, I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise [Anti Records 86772-2]. With the addition of the DAP-777, all of LaVette’s distinct breathe, articulation and weathered soul came through much more vividly than with the TL51XZ alone as front end. In her vocal technique, LaVette has a unique way of arching up top with a dry, crackling in her voice. The addition of the DAP-777 brought this unique vocal quality of LaVette’s beautifully out front, in a warm, unforced new way. On my favorite cut, “How Am I Different?” Paul Bryan’s electric bass was heard the way I enjoy it with my McIntosh amps in the mix: lots more rushes of air toward the listener and a bass that was not gated but literally rolled into my listening room with far more natural projection and recession back into a wider soundstage than before. As LaVette delivered her damning question, “When you fuck it up later, do I get my money back?” I was struck with the pure physicality of her vocal attack, with much more visceral warmth and body to her biting words. The DAP-777 brought new life to this wonderful recording. It brought a physical presence to LaVette not heard before, with a combination of new inner detail and more critically, a “launching of dynamics” (Valin) which amounted here to a projection into the room of LaVette’s voice in a more natural manner that demanded my attention to LaVette’s spectacular, soulful delivery.

Speaking of greater physicality and immediacy, there is nothing more compelling to me than Ginger Baker’s drum work stunningly recorded on his Coward of the County [Atlantic 83168-2] with the young, talented lions of the Denver Jazz Quintet. Every cut on this recording is a gem of big band creativity, including scorching solos taken by the likes of James Carter on baritone sax and bass clarinet, and Ron Miles, trumpet, to name just a few. James Carter’s Promethean blasts on baritone were so physically involving with the DAP-777 that it was like hearing the solos for the first time. Carter’s sudden honks down low sent warm waves of air and sound projecting outward, taking me by complete surprise with their new forceful dynamics and larger, more life sized imagery. The DAP-777 also shed new light on the pure physicality of Baker’s technique. Splashes of cymbals, brushed and brazen, now came to life as Baker utilized different weight and angles to achieve his metallic pallet. The intricate “Cyril Davies” starts with Baker kicking out some very serious deep bass drum, simultaneously combined with his quick cymbal work. With the DAP-777, I could now discern the physical movement of Ginger’s foot pedal striking the bass drum, with the resulting waves of sound projecting towards me and then naturally receding. With this new accessibility, the DAP-777 afforded a new medium to compare Baker’s pure physicality on the drums with other percussionists. For example, one of my favorite local Boston drummers is Yoron Israel. Listening to Israel’s sly work on pianist Laslo Gardony’s new release, Natural Instinct [Sunnyside 4003], I was drawn into Israel’s lightness of touch and his use of silences to great comic effect. This quality of bringing more “physicality” to every good recording, (and thus being able to appreciate more the human performers behind the music), was the DAP-777’s consistent virtue.

A final summary of the DAP-777 could be had in the context of listening to small and large scale orchestral works. I learned about the wonderful Canadian recording label, Analekta, from the writers at UHF Magazine, who have used recordings from Analekta for their own respected review work. Listening to violinist James Ehnes with the Orchestre Symphonic de Quebec on French Showcases [Analekta FL23151] was a revelation through the DAP-777. The DAP-777 brought a more rounded and warm tone to Ehnes’ playing, which was positively enticing and inviting. The DAP 777 also brought an explosion of new color to the orchestra, particularly a new lively midrange to woodwinds. It greatly improved the lifelike images of the individual sections of the orchestra and fleshed out subtle, physical tonal differences not heard before. In a much more intimate setting, presented by the intriguing duet of trumpeter Paul Merkelo and organist/harpsichordist Luc Beausejour on their Baroque Transcriptions, [Analekta 29812], the DAP 777’s virtue of bringing a greater physicality, a “dynamic launching” was absolutely stunning. I had never heard Merkelo’s trumpet so liquid and warm, with such dynamic projection to my listening position and then such natural recession back into a deep soundstage. The physical traits of trumpet and breath moving air, projecting and receding with each forte or pianissimo, were brilliantly conveyed by the addition of the DAP 777. Juxtaposed to this swelling and falling was Beausejour’s organ, moving air magnificently with trills and deep pedals of sound underneath. Again, the DAP brought more warmth and rounded glow to the organ than I had heard previously, but all to the service of a more physical display of the actual instrument, its sheer size and volume.

Delightful Proof
The Reimyo DAP-777 is a brilliant performer that will bring years of listening enjoyment for the active and engaged listener. It brings a greater sense of pure physicality to all music and has a special way with dynamics and their projection. It also provides rounded lifelike images and exponentially increases the immediacy of the midrange in all music explored. If you already own a decent player that can be used as a transport, then the cost of upgrading to the DAP 777 and a digital cable might be less than buying a new, premium one box solution. The addition of the DAP 777 into my reference system clearly demonstrated the importance of DAC design to the expressive reproduction of music and how separate DAC and transport units still make a premier music making front end, addressing the relationship between math and music most elegantly.

Nelson Brill

                      _____________________




DAP-777 Specifications:
Input Quantization: 16bit
Sampling Frequencies: 48kHz, 44.1kHz, 32kHz. Automatic Switching
Digital Inputs:
1 x Coaxial (RCA)
1 x Optical (TORX)
1 x BNC
1 x AES (XLR-3P)
Signal Processing: 20 bitK2 Processing IC
Digital Filter: 20 bit 8-time Oversampling
Phase Inverter SW: 0-180゜on the back panel
D/A Converter IC: 20bit D/A Converter/ Multi-bit
Analogue Outputs:
XLR Balance/4.90 Vrms
RCA Unbalance/2.45 Vrms
Frequency Response: DC ~20kHz (±0.5dB)
Signal-to-Noise Ratio: Better than 117dB
Dynamic Range: Better than 100dB
THD: Better than 0.003% (30kHz LPF on)
Channel Separation: Better than 105dB (1kHz)
Channel: 2-channel Stereo
Unbalance Outputs: 2.45 Vrms/LOW IPM (+10dBm)
Balance: 4.90 Vrms/LOW IPM
Power Requirement: 117V/60Hz, 220-230V/60Hz
Power Consumption: 13.5W
Dimensions: 17”(W) x 2.5”(H) x 13”(D)
Weight: 11.5 lbs.
Standard Accessory: X-DC 1.5m AC Power Cord

Price: $5195.00

Company Information
Combak Corporation
4-20, Ikego 2-chome
Zushi-shi, Kanagawa 249-0003, Japan
Phone: (81) 046-872-1119
Fax: (81) 046-872-1125
Website: www.combak.net

North American distributor:
May Audio Marketing, Inc.
2150 Liberty Drive, Unit 7
Niagara Falls, NY 14304
Phone: (716) 283-4434
Fax: (716) 283-6264
Website: www.mayaudio.com



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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